Anti-war slogans in light of
the outcome of the war

by Joseph Green

. The war may be over, but demonstrations, protests, and conflicts are breaking out all over Iraq. The course of the war verified the claim that this was a war for oil and empire, a war for exploitation and oppression, not for freedom and liberty. And the task now confronts the anti-war movement of supporting the struggle against this exploitation and oppression.

. But it is also important to examine how various of the slogans being put forward fared in light of the experience of the war.

The fight on two fronts -- against both imperialism and local tyranny

. One controversy in the anti-war movement was whether to condemn both US imperialism and Saddam's tyranny, or just US imperialism. Groups such as the Workers World Party implied that it would be capitulation to the Bush administration to condemn the Iraqi regime. They created an expectation that the Iraqi regime would wage some sort of anti-imperialist fight against US imperialism.

, But as we have seen, the war showed that Saddam's Baath regime didn't change its nature during the war. It fought, not for the Iraqi people's liberty, but to maintain its own dictatorship. So, although it held out for awhile in the south of Iraq, it faded away rapidly in the north. And it couldn't carry out its threat of urban warfare in Baghdad, and instead collapsed. It was a mirage to believe that such a notorious tyranny, hated by so much of the population, would do anything but continue to oppress the masses to the end.

. With the collapse of the regime, the most popular slogan of the Iraqi masses was against both Saddam and the occupation. It no doubt dismayed the Bush administration to see, among Iraqis who welcomed the fall of Saddam, such a common and burning desire that the American troops should leave rapidly. But it is also notable that the demonstrators didn't think it sufficed to denounce the occupation; they also denounced Saddam. For most, this wasn't to curry favor with the new occupiers, but to express a deep hatred against the Baath regime. The slogan of struggle on both fronts, against both US imperialism and local tyranny, corresponds to the sentiments of the majority of anti-occupation Iraqis.

. Those who claimed that the anti-war movement shouldn't concern itself with condemning Saddam sometimes suggested that the only reason to condemn Saddam would be to reassure the American bourgeoisie that, yes, we too are against the Iraqi regime. But the real reason why it was important to deal with Saddam's tyranny, was to express solidarity with the Iraqi masses and to help the organization of a real anti-imperialist struggle both here in the heartland of imperialism and in Iraq. An anti-imperialist struggle is based, not on the power of advanced weapons like the US military's, but on the power of mass organization, consciousness and initiative. Such a struggle can't be organized by putting one's hopes in one reactionary to fight another, but by orienting the struggle against all the tyrants sitting on the back of the masses. It didn't hurt imperialism when a variety of Trotskyist groups identified the anti-imperialist struggle with the efforts of Saddam's military. What hurts imperialism is that the mass of people in Iraq have begun to stir, and that a mass anti-war sentiment developed in the US and elsewhere around the world. Insofar as anti-imperialism is identified with support for notorious local tyrants, it makes things easier for imperialism and tears the heart of the struggle against the world bourgeoisie.

International law and the UN

. Another slogan which appeared in the anti-war movement was the appeal to international law and the UN. What did the course of the war show about this slogan? Despite the fact that the Bush administration couldn't get the Security Council to pass the final resolution authorizing the war, the invasion and occupation of Iraq went ahead anyway. The UN will pass more resolutions, which become international law. But these new resolutions on Iraq will legalize the occupation. Thus, international law will have adapted itself to and reflected the balance of military, political and economic strength among the big powers, in which the US is the sole remaining superpower.

. This is not a quirk of the present situation, but the general feature of international law. This law is made by the dominant countries, and reflects their interests. The distinction between multilateral action by the big powers, and unilateral action by the US, isn't the distinction between justice and imperialism, but between two different forms of imperialist action.

. The French, German and Russian governments raised various objections to US action on Iraq. But what motivated them? It was not the interests of the Iraqi people, nor do these governments have the same motives as the millions of demonstrators in Europe who opposed the war. The European governments pursued empire and oil, as did the Bush administration, but they pursued the interests of their own bourgeoisies, which differs to this or that extent from that of the American bourgeoisie. The interest of French, German and Russian multinational companies aren't the same as those of the American companies; and these governments have somewhat different policies in pursuing exploitation of Asia, Africa and Latin American than the US does.

. Take a look at the multinational trade agreements. WTO agreements are made at multilateral meetings and set international trade law, yet they aren't in accord with the ideal of abstract justice. They reflect the power of the major Western countries over the rest of the world, as well as the generally dominant position of the US with regard to the other big powers. European imperialism is just as hard-nosed with respect to exploiting the rest of the world as US imperialism is. It is insisting on the dropping of local laws that interfere with its investments and business opportunities, just as the US does. And it subsidizes its own agriculture while demanding that Asia, Africa and Latin America drop its own subsidies, just as the US does.

. Despite the experience of the Iraq war, the reformist forces in the movement still believe UN involvement as the solution to US aggression. A UN occupation is supposed to be the answer to American occupation. Instead of looking towards strengthening the ability of the working masses of Iraq to resist foreign occupation and local reactionaries, the reformists look towards a multilateral or joint imperialist force. This appears to be a simple solution to dealing with the problem both of Iraqi clericalism and of US arrogance, as the reformists imagine that the UN might somehow act according to their own prescriptions about what is best for Iraq. But this solution is simple only in the measure that it is totally unrealistic, both about the possibility of a UN occupation and about what it would represent. No UN force can be authorized without US approval. So there will be no UN force while Bush is in office, unless perhaps the US occupation runs into so much trouble that Bush himself called on the UN in a last-ditch attempt to keep Iraq subjugated. And if there eventually is a UN occupation, it would have the same basic orientation to Iraq as the present American occupation does. It would be based legally on a resolution agreed to by the US as well as the other powers, and it would be based in reality on the common interests of US imperialism and the other great powers. There is nowhere in the world where UN forces act to promote the development of working class resistance to oppression, and this wouldn't take place in Iraq either.

. The problem, it should be noted, is not that the French, German and Russian governments have completely agreed to anything the Bush administration wants. Although they couldn't prevent the invasion of Iraq, they differ with the Bush administration on how to administer Iraq, and on how world affairs should be arranged. True, they are not aiming at a major confrontation with the Bush administration--far from it. They want reconciliation with the US, so that the harsh edges of the controversy are muted. But they have drawn certain conclusions from what the Bush administration has done. What they have decided is not to help working people organize around the world, since they share a common interest with US imperialism in preventing this. But Russia has reassessed its defense program, while France and Germany have decided to look around for how they can slowly develop their own political blocs. Thus recently, while the French and German governments have been making bland reassuring statements about rebuilding relations with the US, at the same time France, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg have been meeting to consider the issue of a joint European military force. The idea is to work towards something that could eventually replace NATO, and thus separate European military and political policy from American policy. The European bourgeoisie hopes that with a common military, it wouldn't have to ask American help for intervening in various hot spots around the world. As well, it hopes that it would in general have a greater influence corresponding to a greater military might.

. The differences between the European and American bourgeoisies are real differences, but they are differences among exploiters. They are different shades of world imperialist policy. The agitation in favor of international law and the UN won't solve Iraqi problems, but simply creates illusions in the world system of imperialism. It distracts from the need to have solidarity with Iraqi working people.

The fiasco of "military not political support"

. Most of the overt Trotskyist groups advocated support for the military efforts of Saddam's regime in the war, which they described as "defending Iraq" or "defending the Iraqi people". They claimed that they hadn't become apologists of Saddam, as they were simply giving "military but not political support" to his regime. But it is impossible to separate military and political support. (See the article "The third side, the Iraqi masses: Opposing both sides in the war crisis" in Communist Voice, Dec. 15, 2002, which denounces the fraud of "military but not political support" for the Baath regime.)

. The course of this war has exposed the hollowness of "military but not political support". Saddam's army and militia did not allow anyone to make political criticism of the Baath regime while fighting against the US-British invasion. They continued their reign of terror against the local population while the war lasted.

. Moreover, there were no united front agreements between Saddam Hussein and some international Trotskyist contingent giving it "military support". Trotskyist "military support" for the regime didn't consist of military actions, but of putting out political leaflets and articles seeking to orient the movement to back the regime's war. It consisted of political apology for the Hussein regime, arguing that while the regime was repulsive, people should put this aside during the invasion. But, as we have seen, the nature of the regime affected both the course of the war and its outcome, and the Iraqi population itself was by no means in the mood to put the nature of the regime aside. The only real defense of the Iraqi masses was to support it against both sides in this reactionary war.

. Aside from the Trotskyists, a similar error was made by the Communist Party of Great Britain. The CPGB is a party which has broken away from Stalinism, but, unfortunately, is somewhat influenced by Trotskyism. It is not an anti-revisionist party, but its paper, The Weekly Worker, provides a good deal of interesting material because the CPGB is active on many fronts and discusses its views openly. And The Weekly Worker discusses the views of other left groups, and is a useful source on controversies in the anti-war movement.

. Previously, with respect to the invasion of Afghanistan, the CPGB insisted that one should oppose both US imperialism and the Taliban. It brought out into the open that some groups -- such as the SWP of Britain, whose stand on this was similar to that of WWP in the US -- held that there was something anti-imperialist in Islamic fundamentalism and the Taliban, and it opposed this view. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it again opposed both sides, both US/British imperialism and the Hussein regime. But this time, when the war actually began, it changed its views.

. Let's examine this more closely. Just before the war, the CPGB's leading theorist, Jack Conrad, wrote an article entitled "Armchair generals, or Saddam's leftwing allies. "(1) This was in line with the previous stands of the CPGB. He flayed various opportunists, while pointing out that there are also more honorable elements who nevertheless "have allowed justified hatred of imperialism to turn them into Saddam Hussein apologists -- thereby sacrificing any semblance of working class independence. Exactly the same wrong-headed method led to a refusal to countenance any condemnation of al Qa'ada and its barbarous September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. " Conrad went in some detail into the Trotskyist theory of "military but not political support" to the regime of Saddam Hussein, saying, among other things,

. "Surely then in giving Iraq 'military support' one is also giving political support. To argue otherwise is to descend into logical incoherence. Furthermore to claim that in 'cooperating' with the military forces of the Ba'athist regime one is not offering any political support is to define war and politics as being entirely separate -- an elementary mistake. War or -- put another way -- 'military cooperation' is a form of politics.
. "Taking sides with the Ba'athist little slaveholders against the US and UN big slaveholders is to consciously or unconsciously fool oneself and those who follow your lead. 'Cooperation' with the armed forces of Ba'athism must be based on some measure of political support for the regime and its aims. To defend Iraq militarily is to assist it in practice in attaining its political objectives and is in fact to support the Ba'ath regime politically, however much one may verbally deny it."

. But two weeks later, the CPGB changed its mind. It began to insist that, so long as the US/UK imperialists were invading Iraq, there could no longer be a wholehearted struggle against two enemies: the invading imperialists and the Saddam dictatorship. It theorized that one had to consider which was the "main enemy", and that under these circumstances, Saddam was no longer the "main enemy" of the Iraqi people. Therefore, Jack Conrad said, there "must be tactical shifts in the struggle against his [Saddam's] dictatorship. The goal remains to put power into the hands of the workers, peasants and urban power -- but the US-UK forces must now be sent packing. " He went on to exult in the successes of Saddam's military, and prophesied that "When US armies arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad it is still possible that they will be met with capitulation. However, that seems increasingly improbable. " Conrad hinted that "the mass of the Iraqi population -- Shia and Sunni" was uniting behind the Baath military, and talked about "Islam, Iraqi nationalism and pan-Arabism .  .  . combining in a powerful ideology of resistance". While he still said that "communists in Iraq will surely not suspend their democratic struggle against Saddam Hussein's dictatorship", he said that they should "bring to the fore the fight against the US-UK invasion force". Conrad remained discreetly silent on how this was to be done. Yet this was precisely the sticking point, since he had himself, two weeks earlier, ridiculed the possibility of taking part in the military struggle side-by-side with the Baath regime while fighting against the regime. He also said nothing about how Saddam's military was combining its resistance to the invasion with continued oppression of the local population. (2)

. The CPGB went on to give the slogan "Victory to the Iraqi people". Conrad complained that one group, while opposing the invasion of Iraq, "was easily swayed by fellow-thinkers in the Iraqi diaspora not to offer the Saddam dictatorship any support". (3) Conrad's alternative view was that activists had to choose between two possibilities, victory for the US/UK forces or "the US-UK coalition is soundly defeated by Saddam Hussein's forces". This was the "tactical" shift away from calling for a struggle against both forces. (4)

. A letter to the Weekly Worker pointed out that the CPGB's position was now the same as "military but not political support" to Saddam's regime. (5) The CPGB's Ian Donovan replied by reiterating the CPGB's criticism of the Trotskyists for pretending that "military support" can be separate from "political support". And truly, the CPGB does not use the formula "military but not political support". But Donovan evaded the fact that, although the CPGB disagreed with the wording of the formula, it now agreed with the essence of the Trotskyist position, namely, that it was possible to side with Saddam's military while continuing the struggle against Saddam's regime. He quibbled that the CPGB gave the slogan "Victory to the Iraqi people" and referred to the rights of peoples to be independent of Western imperialism, while the Trotskyist group Workers Power gave the slogan "Victory to Iraq", and was presumably backing the rights of states. (6)

. Similarly, the CPGB's Jack Conrad could still recognize that "When push comes to shove", the position of various Trotskyist groups, such as the SWP of Britain, the International Socialist Group and Workers Power, "translated into 'Victory for Saddam Hussein'. Workers Power had the virtue of unambiguously saying so. Here though was the true meaning of the SWP's slogan - 'Victory to the Resistance'. " But he claimed that "Our 'Victory to the Iraqi people' slogan had, it should be stressed, a completely different content. Specifically ruled out as unprincipled were any united fronts with Ba'athism. "(7)

. But was the CPGB's slogan so different from the others? As we have seen, Conrad had earlier called for a "tactical shift" in the attitude to the Saddam dictatorship. If this didn't mean dreaming of some sort of common struggle with the regime against the invaders, then it is hard to understand why it was a "tactical shift" or how it was supposed to translate into a victory for Saddam's military against the US/UK invaders. Conrad might write at the same time that he was against "some rotten military bloc" with Saddam, and that the masses shouldn't "suspend their struggle against Saddam Hussein". But giving a slogan in favor of the victory of Saddam's regime in the war, while in one's imagination avoiding any suspension of the struggle against his regime, is the very heart of the "military but not political support" fantasy. Indeed, what is the difference between desiring "victory for Saddam Hussein", which Conrad opposed, and "prefer(ing) victory for the existing Iraqi state to victory by the US-UK coalition", which Conrad supported?(8) Wasn't Saddam Hussein the leader of the then "existing Iraqi state"?

. No doubt the CPGB would have preferred a victory by revolutionary anti-Baath forces. But in the situation where there was no possibility of this in the current war, they abandoned the struggle to encourage the development of such a trend, and hoped for the victory of Saddam's military. They talked only of the imperialist motives of the US/UK in this war, while going silent on their analysis of the actual class motives of the Saddam dictatorship in this war. This amounted in practice to the same stand as the advocates of "military but not political support". <>


(1) Weekly Worker #471, March 13, 2000. (Return to text)

(2) Jack Conrad, "Party notes: Conquerors, not liberators" in Weekly Worker #473, Thursday, March 27, 2003. The earlier ridicule was in the previously cited article of March 13, "Armchair generals, or Saddam's leftwing allies. (Text)

(3) Jack Conrad, "Party notes: Slogan wars", May 1, Weekly Worker #478; The group in question was the pro-state-capitalist Communist Party of Britain, the old pro-Soviet party, which deserves to be condemned on a multitude of grounds, as it is a rotten revisionist party, not a truly communist party. But when it is criticized for not offering the Saddam dictatorship any support, this says more about those who offer such criticism than about the CPB. (Text)

(4) Jack Conrad, "Party notes: Which side are you on?", Weekly Worker #474, April 3. (Text)

(5) Jim Cullen in the letters column of Weekly Worker #474, April 3, 2003. (Text)

(6) Ian Donovan, "Consistent democracy after Saddam Hussein", Weekly Worker #475, April 10. 2003. (Text)

(7) "Party notes: Slogan wars", Weekly Worker #478, May 1. (Text)

(8) Jack Conrad, "Party notes: Which side are you on?", Weekly Worker #474, April 3. (Text)

Back to main page, CV #31, write us!

Last modified: May 26, 2003.